Identitarianism Comes to Hollywood

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The Simpsons announced that white actors will not be permitted to "voice" non-white characters. This raises so many questions. Is Hank Azaria–who is Sephardic and thus Hispanic under federal law–white? Is it still okay for Dan Castellaneta, a Gentile, to voice Krusty, a Jewish clown, or does he have to give the part to Azaria? And what's up with a grown woman voicing Bart?

I know that Hollywood mistreated minority actors in the past, but color-me-skeptical that creating ethnic ghettos for actors is the way to move forward, or that Hollywood is really serious about properly representing (even non-cartoon) characters.

Did you read about the forthcoming West Side Story movie? Steven Spielberg hired all sorts of cultural and diversity consultants and this is what he and they came up with:

"When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I'm so happy that we've assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America's multifaceted Hispanic community," said Spielberg. "I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they'll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that's more relevant than ever." ….

"I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast," said [Rachel]  Zegler. "West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community."

I commented at Instapundit at the time:

Why do Puerto Rican characters in West Side Story need to be played by Latinos, but not Italian characters by people of Italian or (better yet, given the demographics of New York's Italian community, specifically Sicilian) descent? Why is having a Colombian-American a politically-correct choice to play a Puerto Rican? What do Colombia and Puerto Rico have in common besides different dialects of the Spanish language? If you were trying to cast an Australian of 1960, would casting an English-speaking actor from the US, or India, be "authentic"? Isn't kind of insulting to assume that all Spanish-speaking countries are interchangeable?

It gets worse. Here is Zegler's ethnic background: "Her father is of Polish ancestry on his own father's side, and of Irish, German, and Italian ancestry on his own mother's. Rachel's mother is of Colombian origin." The notion that a half- European, half-Columbian descended actress, who, by the way, is from Clifton, New Jersey,  is somehow a more appropriate choice to play a Puerto Rican character than, well, anyone else is just farcical. That this choice actually won praise rather than scorn from Hollywood's diversity mavens makes me rather cynical about the entire enterprise.

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  1. Thank you for your opinions about Hollywood (which of course you are as free to have and express as the next person). I assume you will henceforth be equally OK with Hollywood actors having opinions about the law?

    1. If my law school announces that white professors aren’t allowed to teach Brown v. Board of Education or Yick Wo v. Hopkins, anyone with some common sense is invited to weigh in.

      1. That’s often the problem with people who wade into someone else’s field; they think it’s all a matter of common sense.

        To give an example from my other academic field: For the last 15 years everyone and their uncle has been explaining to everyone who will listen that it’s common sense that the government has to cut its expenditure if its tax revenue is falling, to make sure it doesn’t end up with a deficit that becomes a burden on future generations. Except none of that is right. The only problem is that it actually takes a bit of careful thought to figure out why, and none of those “common sense” people are willing to make that effort.

        1. For the last 15 years everyone and their uncle has been explaining to everyone who will listen that it’s common sense that the government has to cut its expenditure if its tax revenue is falling, to make sure it doesn’t end up with a deficit that becomes a burden on future generations. Except none of that is right.

          Spoken like a true….Statist. This is completely untethered from the reality we plainly see.

        2. That is common sense. It’s correct, too.

          Now, you seem to know something about Hollywood that we don’t. So please tell us.

          1. I flagged my own comment! Fuck this mobile site.

          2. That is common sense. It’s correct, too.

            I have no opinion as to whether it is common sense, but I do know it’s not correct.

            If tax revenues are falling it is most likely due to an economic downturn, which cutting government spending will make worse.

            On the other hand, if the drop is due to tax cuts it is worth considering whether the cuts were wise, and should be rescinded.

            1. Cutting spending will make an economic downturn worse. The discussion was about deficits, though. Although spending can recoup some of the costs in the form of higher revenues, I’m not aware of any theory, much less empirical data, that shows you can decrease deficits by spending more. This is like Republican claim that you can increase revenues by cutting taxes, which is equally ridiculous.

              1. No. The discussion was about this:

                For the last 15 years everyone and their uncle has been explaining to everyone who will listen that it’s common sense that the government has to cut its expenditure if its tax revenue is falling, to make sure it doesn’t end up with a deficit that becomes a burden on future generations.

                The government doesn’t have to cut spending at all, and should probably increase it. The first mistake is automatically giving deficit reduction top priority, because of the “burden on future generations.”

                The second is measuring the burden in nominal terms. That burden is best measured as a percentage of GDP.

                The third is assuming that future generations derive no benefit from current government spending. They won’t drive on the new roads, or over the improved bridges, won’t have any use for the results of research, etc. It’s not all burden.

                So what I said is not at all like claiming tax cuts are self-financing.

                1. I gave “deficit” top priority because that’s what he said.

              2. “Cutting spending will make an economic downturn worse.”

                Yes and no….

                Deficit spending during an economic downturn can be a good idea, so long as government credit is good and the duration is relatively short, by helping to even out demand shortfalls (and can curb demand spikes)

                Where you run into problems are long term deficit spending to especially in attempts to correct structural issues with the economy, or due to political dysfunction. This tends to exacerbate the problems in the long term, as various inefficiencies in the economy are created and a lack of dynamic response is introduced. Eventually, it leads to lack of government credit (and forced reduction in government spending) or large scale inflation, up to hyper inflation, with various inefficiencies drawn in there.

      2. How about the cast of “Hamilton”?

      3. Prof. Bernstein, you can teach Brown v Board all you want, but I suppose you cannot blacken your face and portray Thurgood Marshall. At least according to Hollywood, I wouldn’t presume to speak for the Antonin Scalia Law School.

    2. Hollywood requires no specialized knowledge to comment; law frequently does.

      1. Particularly when SCOTUS chief justices redefine common English words to mean things that they never did before. 🙁

        1. So Humpty Dumpty had it right, after all?

    3. I have to say of the many bones you may have to pick with DB, this one is particularly lame.

      1. What is lame about pointing out how petty the politically correct police can get? Do you think Hollywood actually did the right thing here for the Simpsons and West Side Story? If you do, then the lameness finger points directly at you, and I can see why you don’t want anyone pointing that out. If you do not, then you agree with Prof. Bernstein.

        If nothing else, it’s a couple of damned funny anecdotes.

        1. And I’m a fool. You were not responding to DB, you were responding to Martinned. My apologies, and I will go away now.

          1. No problem, we all do it at times.

      2. To be fair, before I started reading I was inclined to the same view as Bernstein. But I didn’t feel very strongly. If a bunch of actors decide they don’t want certain types of parts anymore, it’s their livelihood. It’ll probably matter very little for the quality of the final product, so what do I care?

        The problem is that Bernstein made his point in such an Instapundit/Murdoch Media-kind of way that I suddenly felt convinced that we should give Steven Spielberg an honorary Oscar for diversity. He skillfully managed to convince me of the opposite thing from what he was trying to convince me of.

        1. Your track record shows you were predisposed to Hollywood’s fake diversity long before you deigned to skim anything by Bernstein.

        2. Martin,
          For years I was offended that every time a TV show had a character with an Italian name, the actor was almost inevitably an Ankenazi. Judd Hersch was a particular offender in my books.
          I must admit that I have always like the quote that I heard from Maurice Sendak, “I always thought of Italians as happy Jews.” I kind of think he was right (at least very often).
          But now there is far too much PC silliness attached. Why should a Brit or an Aussie pay an American using a studied American regional accent?
          Similarly, the number of American actors who play their parts with very poor imitations of a Slavic accent should be kicked off screen.

          1. Hey Don,

            Things change.

            Checked the cast of the Sopranos lately?

            And if Al Pacino can play Shylock, why can’t Abe Vigoda play Tessio in The Godfather?
            🙂

          2. Those of us actually from Maine cringe at Hollywood’s version of a Maine accent.

            (1) There is not one singular Maine accent, and (2) it ain’t anywhere near what Hollywood comes up with.

            Likewise adding the sound of screeching tires when a car is sliding on a snowy road. Only people who have never driven in snow would do something like that because the car is sliding because the tires have no traction on the road — and hence *couldn’t* make a screeching noise.

        3. “If a bunch of actors decide they don’t want certain types of parts anymore, it’s their livelihood.”

          Didn’t sound to me like the actors were making this decision, sounded like the people in charge of casting were.

            1. The Apu controversy started long before Ms. Slate’s epiphany…

              1. Indeed it did, but unlike Ms Slate quitting the whole story around whether Apu was an appropriate character, and if so who should voice him, didn’t kick of a wider rethink.

    4. As I am Hollywood’s customer hell yes I can opinion as much as I want and so can anyone no matter any field,

      Pandering to race is all it is. Self gratifying virtue signaling.

      1. Fly that Confederate flag proudly, Mr. Epperson. Don’t let a bunch of elite, educated, godless, liberal commies — probably gay, most of ’em — tell you there’s anything wrong with a Robert E. Lee or Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in the town square, at least not in real America!

        1. Le and Bedford were up for parts in West Side Story, Mr. E[person wouldn’t like it either. Maybe for Streetcar or Death of a Salesman.

    5. Martinned,
      Why would Prof Bernstein, or anyone else, care if Hollywood actors opined on a legal question? After all, nobody knows the profession of most of the commentators on this blog. For all we know, you might be a Hollywood actor. The only question that is relevant is does the comment make sense.

    6. What a stupid comment. Of course actors should have opinions about the law. They should also have opinions about religion, science and every other important thing in life.

      It would be even better if they had informed opinions that were well supported by data and reason and not based solely on prejudice and soundbites. You should try it sometime.

  2. “Farcical”. Exactly right. It’s a farce.

  3. The most shocking thing is Simpsons is still around. What lobotomite is still regularly watching it?

    1. Yeah, who would watch The Simpsons when they could be watching Lou Dobbs, amirite?

  4. I am more curious as to why Spielberg from Arizona thinks he can coach actors on New York City ethnic gang wars.

    Also his child actor in ET uttered the phrase “penis breath” in ET which is an obviously homophobic reference.

    But the shotguns got deleted. You decide.

  5. ” Isn’t kind of insulting to assume that all Spanish-speaking countries are interchangeable?”

    It’s actually worse than that — they have fought wars against each other — and not all that long ago, either. Remember the 1969 “Soccer War” between El Salvador & Honduras?

    But the issue with the Simpsons is that they are green….

  6. Seems a bit silly, and something that could come around and bite the studios.

    Does this mean that James Earl Jones shouldn’t voice Darth Vader?

    Does that mean changing the race of actors who play people in comic books is now forbidden?

    1. Omg, was Darth Vader blackface???

      1. No, blackvoice. Infinitely worse. Hid his ethnicity behind a mask.

        1. He had a few comorbidities.

        2. It was a white actor, playing a white character, hiding behind a black mask, voiced by a black voice actor.

    2. Yeah, I heard that Darth was actually a White supremacist. Also, that he was gay. Oh, wait, I think that was Dumbledore. It’s so hard to keep up.

      1. James Earl Jones did a wonderful job as the voice of Darth Vader (in my opinion).

        But since the character is technically white (behind a black mask), does that mean it should’ve been a white voice actor?

  7. Oh that’s no problem, everyone on the Simpson’s is yellow so we will just get a bunch of Asians to do it. That should fit nicely with the new policy 🙂

    1. That’s what I thought. I don’t watch the Simpson’s, but with things like this I learn a bit here and there. There are no white characters, right? All other ethnicities are portrayed as accurately as the cartoon genre allows, but that racist show has no whites.
      So yeah, cancel that racist show and all of the actors, directors, and producers.

  8. Words of wisdom on diversity from a blog that is more white and male than Trump judicial nominees and the Senate Republican caucus . . .

    1. Don’t be crazy, there are at least three female Conspirators. And I’m sure Bernstein will be able to tell us exactly whether prof. Movsesian, who (judging by his name) is of Armenian descent, counts as white under Federal law. How is that not diversity?

      https://reason.com/volokh/who-we-are/

      1. So white it mocks the odds.
        So male it defies probability.

        Someone should ask the Heterodoxers to look into it.

        Carry on, clingers.

        1. Samuel L. Bronkowitz presents…

  9. One of the great stupidity is deciding that a white or black person should not voice a bi-racial person.

    By the way what is bi-racial anyway? And don’t spout the “what I identify as” crap in this context.

  10. So who is supposed to voice Goku and Vegeta in Dragon Ball Super?

    I do not know of any ethnic Saiyan VAs…

  11. Professor Bernstein, I frankly cannot believe that we Americans are getting side-tracked on a question as utterly irrelevant as what race of person can perform artistic roles. Only…in…America.

    1. The side-tracking is the point.

      You win in politics not by having the best answers, but by making sure the conversation is focused on areas where you have the best/most popular answers.

      If conservatives can shift the conversation from people being killed by the police to trivialities like this, they won’t have to actually do anything. The question is why liberals are letting it happen.

      1. The issue of race relations is multi-faceted, it does us no good to confine all discussion to one facet.

      2. “If conservatives can shift the conversation from people being killed by the police to trivialities like this, they won’t have to actually do anything. The question is why liberals are letting it happen.”

        Letting it happen? They’re the ones doing it.

        1. Well, Martin did say in the first line of his post, the side-tracking is the point. Change the subject, and then blame it on the other side. Nice try.

  12. Clingers understand the focus should be on preserving the majority status of whites in America.

    That’s part of the reason they’re getting stomped in the culture war.

    #StephenMillerConservatism

    #MoreNorwegiansPlease

  13. And if the theaters ever open again, Hollywood will wonder why no ones comes – – – –

    (just curious; how does this square with a black Hamilton?)

    1. Hollywood does not care about the theaters.

      1. S0,
        Hollywood does not care. (Full stop)

    2. “Black Hamilton.” GREAT point.

  14. What is Epistemic Trespass?

    #Culturism

    Culturism: A Word, A Value, Our Future (Press 2001) John Kenneth Press

    From the largest Icelandic community in the USA with a vanishingly small fraction of minorities among minorities. A comfortable community. (See Ferdinand Tönnies’s Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (1887) tr. Community and Civil Society 2001

  15. This is lame.

    Voluntary movement doesn’t lay out bright lines, which invalidates the whole thing!

    Also…Identitarianism is a post-World War II European far-right political ideology asserting the right of Europeans and peoples of European descent to culture and territories claimed to belong exclusively to them.

    ???

  16. What about Hollywood’s long-standing tradition of straights playing gays and gays playing straights? Or, is the caring cudgel meme of the day only about race?

    Were casting directors to hew to a new norm of accurate race, ethnicity, gender, creed, and orientation for those playing fictional roles, there would be little need for actors.

    1. How will Hollywood handle an already politically correct cast actor who changes sex or gender or partner preference or political party after the contract has been signed?

  17. The voluntary rule will be fine. What can’t survive is social enforcement. It will be impossible to enforce a rule that prohibits whites from taking black roles, but permits blacks to take white roles. And then the rule hurts black actors, because their opportunities get significantly reduced relative to white actors.

    1. It will be impossible to enforce a rule that prohibits whites from taking black roles, but permits blacks to take white roles

      I don’t see why? Minority favoring asymmetry doesn’t seem like something Hollywood has any issue with.

      1. If that were true, what is being cured by the voluntary rule? The claim is that Hollywood has been minority disfavoring. That’s because Hollywood is overwhelmingly white. The white execs might be fine with a rule that mandates racial roles for actors, but they aren’t going to fire themselves (or their much larger white audiences).

        1. “The claim is that Hollywood has been minority disfavoring.”

          Sure, that’s the claim. How many years has it been since that claim had any truth to it?

        2. Haha, OK I think I see. Yeah, execs ain’t getting touched with this. But they’re not the big symbols up in front.

          In general, you can recast as a minority; you can’t recast as white. That seems sustainable to me, given the numbers. Is it fair? Depends on the timescale you want to look at.

          1. I don’t think any rules that favor racial minorities are sustainable in a transparent democracy on a long enough time scale. I think it’s a math problem. Minorities have the most to lose from racial preferences rules, because of the math.

  18. David Bernstein, an American Jew, who seems extraordinarily concerned with things Israel*, complains about ‘identitarism?’

    * NTTAWWT

    1. I think he is complaining about PC idiocy exemplified by the Simpsons announcement. I’d cite the Yale Halloween costumes “controversy” as another example.

  19. West Side Story is a remake of Romeo and Juliet. The story involved rival Italian clans. Not Puerto Ricans or Italians, although I always thought of the Jets as more Irish than Italian, despite Tony.

    The original Broadway cast had Carol Lawrence as Maria who was Italian and Larry Kert played Tony, not Italian. The movie had Natalie Wood, of Russian heritage as Maria and Richard Beymer, from Iowa and not Italian who couldn’t sing very well and had to be dubbed for the movie.

    The whole notion of who can play what roles ends up just being silly. And Spielberg, a Jewish kid who was from South Jersey, and grew up in California, should know better.

    1. No letting facts interfere with the narrative, off you go…

  20. And just for the record, I loved Hamilton but I don’t think very many of the actors matched the historical record of the ethnic backgrounds of any of the characters.

  21. Meanwhile, Princeton University took Woodrow Wilson’s name off their school of public and international affairs.

    1. Well, fine; except they took it off because he was a racist, not because he was a socialist.

      1. Haha – you think Wilson was a socialist? In like 1913?

        1. Hey shit for brains, when was the Russian revolution again? That’s just Kirkland dumb there.

          1. America was not the USSR.

            Do you think Wilson was a socialist?

      2. Wilson was portrayed in a horrendous 1944 biopic by Alexander Knox, which is an outrage because Knox was a Canadian. A Canadian!!

  22. Professor Bernstein, were you offended by Emmy award winning Simpsons Episode 6 Season 3. Should the episode be taken off the air, or does it not matter to you?

    1. Why would you think that episode would offend anyone?

      1. I wouldn’t think it would.

        However, Prof Bernstein earlier deleted another’s comment joking about the professor’s qualification, based on his last name, to comment about Hollywood. I’m assuming he deleted the joke because he was offended by its propagation of the Hollywood Jew stereotype. However, Krusty the Klown being cast as a Jewish character may very well be perpetuating the same professional stereotype as in the offending comment.

        1. What’s worse was I a simple Mayflower descendant was trying to defend him. I know which way the wind blows.

  23. When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors.

    I’m surprised Bernstein is clutching his pearls about this one. It seems like a pretty natural choice.

    1. He’s got a book coming.

    2. Latino is a made-up U.S. categories. All Puerto Ricans are Latinos, the vast majority of Latinos are not Puerto Ricans. The Sharks are a Puerto Rican gang, not a “Latino” gang. This would be like staffing a movie about the Irish revolution in 1917 with Americans, Scots, Australians, South Africans, New Zealanders, and English because they are all “Anglos.”

      1. But beyond that, there’s no reason that a non-Latino actor can’t play a Latino character, and vice versa. That’s why it’s called “acting.”

  24. I guess the next time the they do Romeo and Juliet on which West Side is based, they’ll have to hire Italians.

  25. Leave it to Hollywood liberal Democrats to reintroduce the “one drop” rule. Even mixed race cartoons aren’t safe from the racist Democrats.

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